Tough start

The first Indian-owned team to start a Formula One race was given a tough lesson in the realities of the sport when both its cars failed to finish the Australian Grand Prix.

Force India, which is co-owned by Indian billionaire Vijay Mallya, never expected to challenge the likes of McLaren and Ferrari for victory but was hoping to at least make it to the finish.

Former Australian Grand Prix winner, Italian Giancarlo Fisichella, crashed out on the first corner, while Germany’s Adrian Sutil retired after eight laps because of a hydraulic pressure problem.

“It was a very disappointing first race for Force India,” the team’s chief technical officer Mike Gascoyne said.

“We missed a great opportunity to score points... and we have to look to get a better result in Malaysia.”

The team’s frustration at failing to finish the race was compounded by an unusually high casualty rate which saw just seven cars complete the event.

Fisichella, who had started from 16th place in the grid, made a clean getaway when the race began but came to an abrupt halt when he was caught in a pile-up. “I was very disappointed as I lost the race at the first corner because another driver came in like a kamikaze into my car,” Fisichella said. “It was very frustrating because this was such a good opportunity to score points.”

Sutil started the race from the pit lane after cracking a chassis in qualifying. He managed to avoid the carnage at the first corner and got as high as 13th place before his day also ended prematurely.

“It was good while it lasted,” Sutil said. “In the opening laps, I could stay with the guys in front of me.”

Force India raced as Spyker last season, scoring just one point and finished 10th overall in the 11-team championship after McLaren was stripped of all its points for a spying controversy.

Mallya bought the team in the hope that Force India would be on the podium when New Delhi hosts a Formula One race in 2010 but knows the obstacles it faces. Despite his disappointment at failing to finish the race, Mallya said there were still plenty of encouraging signs.

“I was very pleased with the weekend despite the frustration of going out early in this astonishing race,” he said.

“I was, however, very encouraged with the pace we showed in the practice sessions. Although qualifying was ultimately disappointing, last year in Australia this team was well off the pace, this year we were up with the midfield.”